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Developmental Trauma

At Sussex Psychology we understand the uniquely complex needs of children with early histories of adversity, trauma and neglect.

Developmental Trauma Services

At Sussex Psychology we understand the uniquely complex needs of children with early histories of adversity, trauma and neglect.  Our team of psychologists and psychotherapists draw upon specialist knowledge and extensive experience when working with the children and the families caring for them.

Developmental and Attachment Trauma

Children are easily traumatised when fear is a dominant theme in their lives.  If they spend much of their early life being scared and lack supportive adults to care and comfort them, they stay frightened.

When a child is exposed to frightening experiences over prolonged periods of time this can result in what is known as developmental trauma.

The impact of early trauma on the developing brain:

The brain is rapidly developing in utero and during the first few years of life.  A simple way of understanding this is to think of the brain growing just like a tree from roots to branches, that is, from brainstem to cortex.

  • When the world is safe, predictable and nurturing, a child will blossom and grow.
  • When the world is full of danger and fear a child will remain locked into ‘surviving’.
  • When the people who care for them are frightened or frightening a child may suffer from attachment trauma or attachment shock.

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We recognise how hard it is for the parents and carers of traumatised children to make sense of what is happening and to manage how challenging this can be for everyone.  If a child has an early history of prenatal adversity (domestic violence for example) their stress response networks in the developing brain may have become highly sensitised.  This means that their immature nervous system becomes more attuned to danger than safety.

The impact of early trauma on a child’s developing nervous system often means their innate need for connection, love and comfort can simultaneously trigger fear and terror.  This means that survival often dominates over the need for love and care. What can happen for these children is that the urge to attach him or herself, which is a primary human need, becomes deeply conflicted.  This tends to lead to the development of specific attachment strategies that function to keep them safe: avoidant, anxious and insecure.

Traumatic experiences early in life not only shatters a child’s inner sense of safety and security but also alters the developing brain.  This is because the developing brain of an infant and young child is more vulnerable to the impact of trauma and neglect than that of a young person or adult.

Fear changes the way children think, feel and act:

Traumatised children live in a perpetual state of fear and sometimes terror.  This is because their baseline state of arousal is altered by repetitive activation of their stress response system.

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When a child’s sense of safety in their world has been shattered, they are likely to:

  • Process and act on information differently from children who are calm and feel safe.
  • Be unable to access a state of calm even when there is no threat.
  • Use lower, more primitive parts of their brain and are more vulnerable to being emotionally reactive.
  • Struggle to manage feelings or find words to express what they feel
  • Develop a rainbow of coping strategies, some of which may be seen in risk taking behaviours

Have difficulties in receiving the care or love they so desperately need.

Developmentally sensitive assessments of early adversity and trauma:

In the first instance, we usually carry out a therapeutic needs assessment for children who have suffered from developmental trauma.  Careful consideration is given to the timeline of key developmental experiences.

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This is because it helps us:

  • Build a detailed picture of a child’s early developmental experiences.
  • Understand how the nature, pattern and timing of traumatic attachment experiences may have impacted on a child’s developing brain.
  • Consider a child’s relational health history alongside their experiences of adversity.

Building an in-depth assessment of a child’s unique needs often involves:

  • Listening with kindness to a child or young person’s story as it unfolds in words or pictures.
  • Listening with care to the parent/caregiver’s experience, observations, insight and understanding.
  • Observations of a child or young person at home and school.
  • Talking to other professionals that may be currently involved with the child or young person.
  • Carrying out a suite of psychological tests to help build a deeper understanding of a child’s internal world.

Assessments that are developmentally sensitive help us understand the unfolding impact of a child’s history of adversity and trauma on their emotional, social and cognitive development.  Our recommendations will map out a detailed package of therapeutic care involving a plan of therapeutic and enrichment activities designed to match the unique developmental needs of each child.

Attachment Shock

Attachment shock is a unique and often overlooked feature of early developmental trauma which can lead to a poorly organised brainstem. When the brainstem is poorly organised, this has a cascading effect on other important brain systems leading to a number of developmental problems.

Children who suffer from attachment trauma or attachment shock often develop highly adaptive strategies to maximise their safety, which can leave them very vulnerable to developing significant social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Therapeutic treatments for developmental trauma

The therapeutic needs of children with developmental trauma are complex and diverse.  Often therapeutic interventions and enrichment activities are sequenced and paced to match each child’s  developmental needs.  We have found the therapeutic approaches listed below to be the most effective:

Art Therapy

Art therapy is a distinct discipline that incorporates creative methods of expression through visual art media. Art therapy, as a creative arts therapy profession, has its origins in the fields of art and psychotherapy.  It is founded on the belief that self-expression through artistic creation has therapeutic value for those who are healing or seeking a deeper understand of themselves.  From a Jungian perspective, art therapy is a form of symbolic language originating from the unconscious which is significant in helping the individual with the integration of the psyche. For these reasons, art therapists are extremely aware of issues on confidentiality and boundaries.

Art therapists look for opportunities to help their clients identify, express and process emotions that might otherwise remain hidden or stuck.  This is achieved through the use of ‘art media’ to help children, adolescents and adults to express, communicate and explore their feelings.  Within this context, art is not used as a diagnostic tool but as a medium to address emotional issues which may be confusing or distressing.

Art therapy is an effective psychological intervention to treat mild to severe mental health problems.  Creating images can help transform an individual’s imagination and lived experiences so that they can begin to work through difficult events. This can take the form of storytelling through pictures and allows for time and space to develop the ability to reflect and process information.

What to expect from Art Therapy:

  • Exploring feelings using creative techniques such as drawing, painting, colouring etc.
  • Developing self-awareness
  • Increasing self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Reducing anxiety and building resilience
  • Developing social skills

Child Psychotherapy

Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy offers an effective treatment for emotional and psychological difficulties from infancy through to late adolescence. Child and Adolescent Psychotherapists are dedicated to understanding the complex emotional lives of infants, children, young people, families and carers in great depth. This approach seeks to look below the surface of problematic behaviours helping children, young people and their families/carers understand and make sense of what is driving such difficulties. One of the key aims is to understand what a child or young person is attempting to communicate through difficult emotions, behaviours and play. Their distinctive training enables them to develop and sustain relationships with children and young people whose difficulties may be rooted in early trauma, attachment disruptions and neglect, which often renders them vulnerable to blocking opportunities for the care and nurturing needed for healing and recovery.

Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy works with children and young people individually or with other family members as well the professional network around them to actively encourage a deeper understanding from the child’s perspective. During a therapeutic session, younger children may be encouraged to play, while older children may be asked to draw or paint and teenagers to talk about their feelings. Through the relationship with the therapist in a safe setting, the child or adolescent may begin to know and to feel able to express their most troubling thoughts and feelings.  Gradually as these feelings are understood and put into words, there is less need in acting out through behaviour or unhelpful ways to self and other. Part of this process involves helping a child or young person build the internal resources that support their readiness for learning and their ability to form and sustain relationships with friends, family and other significant people in a child’s world.

What to expect from Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy:

  • An exploration of a child or young person’s internal anxieties reflected through problematic behaviours and intense emotions
  • Supporting a child or young person develop a better understanding of their troubling thoughts and hurt feelings so they can learn healthier ways of relating
  • Supporting parents and carers better understand and make sense of their child’s communication attempts and to think with parents from the child’s perspective
  • Supporting parents/carers to develop a more reflective stance as well as strengthen their resources for the task of parenting

Drama Therapy

Drama therapy is an extremely powerful and creative therapeutic intervention that focuses on the healing aspects of drama and theatre as an exploratory tool in therapy. The transformative power of theatre and storytelling captures the imagination in playful and magical ways. Drama and play are an integral part of children’s everyday lives as well as being a vital part of their emotional and social development. Drama allows a child or young person to explore difficult and hurt feelings in refreshingly novel and creative ways. Some of these include; play, role- play, story, art, music and movement. This may also involve a range of playful and fun activities using puppets, masks, paints and costumes.

The idea is to create an imaginative story that supports a child or young person create a safe space to communicate and explore difficult feelings without this engendering a sense of threat. The storytelling or fictional aspect of drama serves as an emotional filter and creative container. This helps children and young people work with hurt and confusing feelings in ways that offset the fear of being overwhelmed by allowing them to tentatively step towards an exploration at their own pace and more indirectly. Drama therapy works well with groups of children and young people, but also individually. It is an effective therapeutic intervention for a range of psychological and mental health difficulties with children and teens.

What to expect from Drama Therapy:

  • Exploring feelings and relationships by using various playful ‘props’ such as puppets and other appropriate performance materials
  • Support, encouragement and guidance in the creative engagement of dramatizing and transforming personal stories and painful feelings using artistic interventions
  • Joint engagement in ‘make-believe’ as part of a shared experience to discover and self-create new perspectives on the survival of adversity and help build resilience

Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP)

Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy is a neurobiologically informed attachment-focused therapy originally developed by Dr Dan Hughes to work with fostered and adopted children who had suffered from early impaired bonding, trauma and chronic neglect in their family of origin. When a child is exposed to frightening experiences over prolonged periods of time this can result in what is known as developmental trauma. When the world is safe, predictable and nurturing, a child will blossom and grow. If their developing world is chaotic, threatening and devoid of kindness or caring relationships, a child may suffer from overwhelming feelings of sadness, loneliness and despair. The family-focused therapeutic interventions of DDP works towards repairing the trauma of early abuse and neglect.

DDP gently weaves the key neuro nurturing principles of sensitivity, attunement and responsiveness into all its therapeutic interventions. This provides a foundational therapeutic platform to restore trust and safety required to work with a child’s compromised attachment capabilities and relational sensitivities. This approach prioritises the vital role of adoptive parents, foster parents and other key attachment figures in helping a child heal from the trauma they have suffered in early life. Therapeutic parenting based on the key principles of PACE is also regarded as a vital part of the healing process. This involves the kind of parenting that seeks to nurture playfulness, acceptance and curiosity to deepen connection and foster attachment.

What to expect from DDP:

  • Working with parents/carers to build on their natural parenting style in ways that enhance sensitivity and attunement to the complex attachment needs of their child
  • Supporting parents/carers to reflect on how their early attachment histories shape their parenting style and attachment communications
  • New ways of understanding the difficulties traumatized children face in attachment relationships and building key therapeutic resources to cultivate trust and safety
  • Working with both parents and children to create opportunities for attunement and override patterns of ‘blocked care’ through playfulness, curiosity and empathy

EMDR

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a distinct therapeutic intervention or technique that uses what is called bilateral stimulation (BLS) in order to help process distressing memories related to traumatic experiences. When children and young people experience traumatic and negative events like abuse, bullying, violence at home, accidents or the sudden death of someone close to them, the brain creates special memory boxes or files that hold all those painful and distressing thoughts, feelings and body sensations connected to these events. Children who have experienced traumatic events can easily get stuck in defensive behavioural patterns, often reflected in heightened anger (fight reactions) or chronic avoidant behaviours (flight reactions).  This is the body’s solution to a perceived threat or danger only it no longer exists.

Unless a child or young person has support in processing distressing and traumatic experiences, they remain vulnerable to being triggered by small everyday reminders that may evoke similar feelings, such as being ignored, a friend or classmate making fun of them or by parents/carers asking them to do their homework or saying ‘no’. EMDR helps the brain reorganise these painful memories so they no longer hold the power to trigger feelings of anger, sadness and confusion, or leave a child thinking and believing that something is wrong with them or they are not good enough.

EMDR is not a ‘magical’ cure but is considered to be a safe and effective therapy for children suffering from post-traumatic stress or who have a history of attachment difficulties. It can also be used alongside other creative therapies such as art therapy and play therapy depending on a child’s needs and age.

What to expect from EMDR:

  • One of the many things that happen with EMDR is we move our eyes from one side to the other while thinking about a negative and distressing event
  • Listening to special music or tapping hands/knees or moving from one foot to the other to help the brain file away hurt and painful feelings, thoughts and body sensations
  • Doing some drawings or art and perhaps puppet work as well as other rhythmic body-based activities to help the brain defrost and process bad experiences

Equine Therapy

Equine assisted psychotherapy (EAP) is a powerful and effective experiential therapeutic approach that uses the dynamic nature of horses to address a variety of emotional difficulties in children, young people and adults. It allows children and teens to take an active role in their recovery and provides a profoundly enriching environment for healing to unfold. The focus of equine therapy is not on riding or horsemanship but takes place purely on the ground through various structured interactions between children and horses. This often involves activities such as grooming, feeding, haltering and leading a horse that is supervised by a fully qualified Equine Psychotherapist and a Horse Specialist. Such activities naturally strengthen the capacity for assertiveness and development of problem-solving skills as well as relationship building.

During interactions with the horse, the equine therapists will observe certain patterns of behaviour or enquires on thoughts and feelings that may be emerging during a session. Our proximal closeness and/or distance during these interactions shows how the body is mapping the parameters of safety or threat, which is often a reflection of our early attachment experiences. Horses display gentleness and tenderness and their implicit sensory sensitivities together with their natural capacity for attunement and mirroring the patterns of behaviour in those with whom they are working offers tentative opportunities for forging a healing connection.

While Equine Assisted Therapy is used for a wide range of emotional and physical difficulties, for children and young people with traumatised attachment histories who struggle to feel safe in connection with another, the parallel nature of these interactions seems to be naturally attuned to the developmental and emotional needs of the child or adult. Children and teens who have suffered physical/emotional abuse often need to engage in ‘parallel’ relational interactions before they feel safe and secure to enough to be open to more relationally based therapies. The nurturing structure and form of parallel communication occurring during interactional activities allow for moments of emotional connection that can be felt and experienced in new and different ways.

Horses are large and powerful animals inspiring both awe and potentially fear. Taking tentative steps towards approaching a horse or making gestures to invite proximity are often foundational moments to override fear and cultivate the beginnings of relational safety. Moments of interaction where a small task/activity is accomplished provide a new template for dealing with challenging life experiences.

What to expect from Equine Therapy:

  • Working on the ground with either one or two horses with two highly experienced practitioners: one a specialist in equine therapy and the other a horse specialist
  • Working at a child’s own pace and supporting them make their choices about how they wish to approach and interact with horses
  • Participate in simple exercises where appropriate like putting a bridle and saddle on the horse to actively encourage confidence and promote bonding experiences

Music Therapy

Music has been used as a therapeutic tool in the service of healing for centuries. Rhythm is regulating; all cultures have some form of patterned, repetitive rhythmic activity as part of their healing and mourning rituals, which is partly why music is often regarded as one of the most powerful forms of communication. The engaging nature of music itself along with the diversity of musical forms makes music uniquely effective in helping people of all ages, whose lives have been affected by trauma, mental illness, physical injury or disability through supporting their psychological, emotional, cognitive, physical, communicative and social needs.

As an expressive and creative art therapy, music seeks to utilise tempo, rhythm and musical improvisation to enhance the emotional, psychological and physical well-being of individuals. Musical interactions also help in the exploration of deeper feelings where sound replaces words and rhythmic melody becomes the primary vehicle for communication. Music therapy is not about learning music or learning to use a specific musical instrument. It is more simply about using and exploring the different melodies of sound through musical interactions with various instruments and facilitating a musical conversation with the therapist in the service of healing.

Music involves patterned, repetitive rhythmic activation of the brainstem and can be seen as a brainstem modulating therapeutic intervention. This is particularly helpful when working with children and young people who have suffered from early impaired bonding experiences, attachment disruptions and loss. Musical interactions encourage connection and bonding between mother and baby, which is especially helpful for women suffering from postnatal depression. Music therapy is also a widely recognised as a specialist therapeutic intervention for young people suffering from brain injury or other neurological disabilities to assist in rehabilitation and improve quality of life.

What to expect from Music Therapy:

  • Working at a pace that is naturally attuned and responsive to your particular emotional and physical needs
  • The capacity to explore musical forms of communication that gently encourage self-expression
  • Taking part in rhythmic body-based activities to modulate and regulate states of anxiety, enhance relaxation and encouraging creative play
  • Playing with musical interactions and alterations in tempo and rhythm as a gentle way of challenging habitual patterns of communication

Play Therapy

Play Therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach primarily used to help children explore and express their feelings through play.  Therapeutic play offers children unique opportunities to explore and communicate their inner world in safe and developmentally appropriate ways.  The goal is to help children learn to express their feelings in healthier ways and discover new and more positive ways to solve problems.

In Play Therapy, a child is presented with an environment and a relationship where they will be able to express themselves through the natural language of play. A child may use a wide variety of role play toys, sand and small figures, puppets, arts and crafts, music and therapeutic stories to explore these feelings and experiences through the safe metaphor of play.

The child is fully accepted and supported in this exploration and expression and integrates a new sense of self, fostering a change both in their internal world and in their external behaviours. This change is facilitated through the child experimenting with new behaviours within appropriate limits. In this environment a child is empowered to develop resilience, self-control, confidence and a new sense of self. In turn, this enhances decision making, their relationships with others and their ability to learn and experience life fully. Final outcomes may be more general such as reduced anxiety; or specific, for example a change in behaviour in class or at home.

What to expect:

  • A therapeutic space that also includes the child’s parent or carer during the assessment process.
  • An exploration of the child’s internal world reflected through intense emotions and problematic behaviours
  • Supporting parents and carers better understand and make sense of their child’s communication attempts
  • Where appropriate, joint sessions with child and parent/carer to support the development of a more reflective stance
  • Therapeutic play activities involving arts and crafts, music, dancing, storytelling,

Play Therapy is most useful for children aged 3-13 but can help young people of all ages.

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is a body-oriented approach to working with trauma. This approach is fully grounded in contemporary neuroscience research and attachment theory, but also deeply informed by the philosophical and spiritual practices of Buddhism. It has evolved over the last three decades into a complex and elegant form of body psychotherapy that gently weaves kindness, compassion and embedded mindfulness into all its therapeutic interventions. As a ‘bottom-up’ approach, it helps us to think sequentially especially when working with early developmental trauma.

While many therapeutic interventions depend almost entirely on verbal narrative, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy utilises the wisdom of the body as a key therapeutic and self-regulatory resource. It offers a unique lens to explore the language of the body by focussing explicitly on the sensory landscape of body sensations and impulses, micro muscular patterns of tension, body movements, posture and gesture as well as facial expressions, gaze resting responses and respiratory rhythms. By prioritising the somatic narrative, it is possible to access the story the body holds by tracking and sequencing somatic states of arousal as well as working more directly with defensive patterns.

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is a developmentally sensitive approach to working with children and young people who have histories of early impaired bonding and attachment disruptions or losses. Children who have suffered from early developmental trauma have compromised attachment capabilities and heightened relational sensitivities. This is reflected in defensive patterns of behaviour children with such histories exhibit as well as in their difficulties in tolerating and managing strong emotions. Children and young people are particularly vulnerable to being triggered by body-based physiological reminders of traumatic experience: sounds, smells, touch, body sensations and impulses as well as small shifts in posture, gesture and body movements.  Sensorimotor Psychotherapy works directly with children’s disrupted capacity for regulation and disrupted attachment systems by helping them to develop physiological and somatic regulatory capacities. As a “bottom-up” approach, it recruits the wisdom of the body to support children and young people Regulate, Relate and Reason.

What to expect from Sensorimotor Psychotherapy:

  • Helps children listen to the story of the body and helps them find words to describe this
  • Helps a young person develop skills of sensing the internal world of body sensations, impulses, muscular patterns of tension, orienting patterns, movement urges and postural patterns
  • Support children to direct attention to present-moment body-based experience; five-sense perceptions, sensory sensations, micro movement patterns etc, while being motivated by curiosity and playfulness

Sensory Attachment Intervention

Occupational Therapy focuses on helping children, young people and adults with physical, sensory, emotional or cognitive disabilities to be as independent as possible in all areas of their daily lives as well as enhance their self-esteem and sense of achievement.

The Occupational Therapist begins by carrying out a detailed assessment, considering the child’s strengths and weaknesses and then develops a specific program of activities for the child, parent and school staff to work on together.

Occupational Therapy interventions might focus on treating the following areas of difficulty:

  • Self-care tasks like getting dressed, eating and using the shower.
  • School-related tasks like writing, typing and copying notes.
  • Holding and controlling a pencil, using scissors and a ruler.
  • Throwing and catching, riding a bike and participating in a PE class.
  • Organising oneself and one’s belongings.
  • Reacting to, processing and regulating sensory input.

Occupational Therapist’s use different treatment approaches when treating children and young people, two of which are described below:

Sensory Integration

Sensory integration is how our brain receives and processes sensory information from our body and the environment so that we can respond appropriately and do the things we need to do in everyday life. Mature sensory processing is important for regulating our behaviour, focusing on a task, getting dressed, eating, interacting with family and friends and for learning in school.

Problems with sensory integration occur when our brain either over or under responds to sensory information. For example, if someone over responds to touch they may be very aware of the label in the back of their clothing or the way their jumper feels on their skin. If someone is under responsive to touch, they may not notice someone tapping them on the shoulder, they may be a messy eater or not notice when their hands are messy.  This could cause the child to become distressed, anxious and frustrated, not notice things or miss out on things that could keep them safe.  Responsiveness to sensory input can be dependent on a situation, for example a stressful situation can make us more or sometimes less aware of sensation.

Problems with sensory integration also occur when we struggle to make sense of and interpret subtle differences in the sensory information we receive. For example, being able to feel two different points of touch that are close together is useful when doing up buttons or tying shoelaces. Another example is being aware of how much or how little force to apply to objects when doing things or judging how close to stand to others when interacting with them.

Sensory integration problems can be treated by increasing one’s knowledge and understanding of the difficulties, making adjustments to the environment and using specific sensory strategies and programmes to improve self-regulation, concentration, behaviour and learning.

Sensory Attachment Intervention

Our sensory experiences as a human being start from conception and continue through our lives.  Our early sensory experiences provide our body and brain’s earliest memories and play a key part in how we form attachments and relationships with our caregivers.

Children who have experienced disrupted or disorganised attachment and trauma through abuse or neglect will have difficulties both with sensory processing and attachment and often experiencing the effects of fight, flight and freeze. These difficulties will affect their ability to self-regulate, learn and coordinate themselves and carry out everyday activities.

Sensory Attachment Intervention uses knowledge of sensory integration combined with knowledge of child development and attachment.  The therapy pioneered by Occupational Therapist, Eadaoin Bhreathnach aims to “enable parents and children to learn the art of self-regulation through the use of sensory and engagement strategies”. (Bhreathnach 2013).

By working together with the caregiver and child the therapist first assesses the child through questionnaires about their sensory processing, development and attachment, observations of the child’s sensory and motor skills and participation in activities of daily living and observation of the child and caregiver.

Therapy might then involve:

  • Exploring sensory activities which have a calming effect.
  • Exploring activities and challenges to help develop the child’s motor skills.
  • Exploring shared activities between the child and caregiver which help promote a shared sense of joy and pleasure and help to diminish the effects of early harmful sensory experiences.
  • Provide advice on the environment and sensory activities for the child at home, nursery or school.
  • Use other interventions and approaches which are based on sensory integration theory that help the child to understand their emotions, their senses and the link between them and how then can help themselves.

Furthermore, this intervention can help the child become better regulated and more able to proceed with those therapies which focus more on their emotional and cognitive abilities.

Theraplay

Theraplay is a developmentally sensitive approach designed to enrich attachment relationships between parents/carers and children.  This is achieved through a playful range of skilfully constructed therapeutic experiences and activities that are initially practised with a therapist but also take place at home.  This approach is especially helpful for children who have suffered from early adversity, trauma and neglect in building their capacity to form secure attachments.  In Theraplay, the key therapeutic elements required to cultivate attachment security are based upon, structure, nurture, engagement and developmental challenge.

The first step in theraplay is an assessment of these four elements in the child-parent relationship called a Marshak Interaction Method assessment (MIM).  This generally involves both parent and child engaging in a number of very simple playful activities.  The MIM assessment is always videotaped and the footage discussed in feedback session(s) with parents as part of the preparatory work for planning theraplay interventions around key focal elements; structure, nurture, engagement and developmental challenge.

This developmentally sensitive approach incorporates gentle therapeutic touch often varying the degree of pressure depending on the tactile sensitivity of your child.  Some of the sensory based games are designed to support regulation and promote bonding/attachment through therapeutic touch/massage with the aim of recapturing what may have been missing early in life.  In essence, theraplay provides a stimulating sensory and relationally rich experience of connection.

For more information on our approach to assessing and working with developmental trauma see: The Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics.

How we work with developmental trauma

At Sussex Psychology, we understand how hard it is for a child whose early history is marked with adversity, trauma and neglect.  We recognise that to survive a child’s nervous system adapts in ways to prioritise safety, but paradoxically such adaptions tend to compromise healthy development.

In our experience, we have found that working with developmental trauma healing happens when:

  • Interventions are developmentally sensitive and relationally relevant, so we are working with the age of the child’s nervous system.
  • We create healing environments at home and school so that every adult can help in some way whether parent/carer, aunt or uncle, teacher, mentor, lunchtime supervisor, grandparents and so on.
  • Therapeutic work is relationally rewarding, genuinely respectful and full of repetitively playful therapeutic activities.

Our work is informed by the core principles of neurodevelopment and our service based on Dr Bruce Perry’s Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics.

We are also very privileged to be working closely with Consultant Psychiatrist and Neuroscientist, Dr Frank Corrigan who is one of our key clinical advisors.  Dr Corrigan has specialist knowledge on the impact of early developmental trauma on the organisation and function of the brainstem.  His research offers new ways of thinking about the clinical implications of a poorly organised brainstem on a child’s capacity to connect and experience relational safety.

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